Sharks urged to bite into NRL finals tests

·2-min read

Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon has thrown down the gauntlet to his Sharks players, urging them to seize the opportunity ahead of them and ensure their impressive NRL regular season form doesn't go to waste.

The Sharks are expected to welcome back rampaging centre Siosifa Talakai for Saturday's finals clash with North Queensland at a sold-out PointsBet Stadium, where a spot in a preliminary final is up for grabs.

It's the first time Cronulla have played a finals game there since 2008 and looms as a significant advantage after they locked up second spot - their highest finish since 1999 - with last Sunday's win away to Newcastle.

Cronulla have lost just one game there throughout the regular season and have beaten the Cowboys in eight straight games.

But Fitzgibbon said his side couldn't get caught up in thinking they had enjoyed a successful season if they didn't go deep into the finals.

"We didn't leave Newcastle feeling like we had achieved anything yet," Fitzgibbon said on Friday.

"We understand that these are the important games and we've put ourselves in a strong position to capitalise on that.

"Where do you want to be? What's the point of preseason and slugging it out and getting to this point in the season and not standing up?

"This is what it's all for and this is where you want to be. If you're not here, you sit at home and you will be bitterly disappointed.

"That's the challenge that lies ahead. You get an opportunity, so don't waste it.

A supposed softer draw to round out the season has allowed the Sharks to go into the finals with little fanfare, and there have been concerns in some quarters that they won't be as battle-hardened as some of their opponents.

Cronulla, though, have had their tough periods this year. Most notably in July they lost narrowly to Penrith but claimed wins over fellow finalists North Queensland, Melbourne and South Sydney.

"It gets brought up a lot, the draw but we're just finding ways to win and the boys enjoy that challenge," he said.

"If we're under the radar and people don't think we're a chance then that's good for us."

The Sharks are boosted by the returns of inspirational lock Dale Finucane, fullback Will Kennedy and prop Toby Rudolf.

But it's the inclusion of wrecking ball centre Talakai that appears the most significant given he went off in the win over Newcastle clutching at his ankle.

There were fears his season may have been over but Fitzgibbon explained that previous surgeries meant the NSW State of Origin representative would be good to go.

"He looks strong and probably better than expected," Fitzgibbon said.

"He got through more work than we thought yesterday, so he's looking good."